Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Canadian depth chart: Forwards

I've been dragging my feet a bit on making my next post in my "Canadian depth chart" series because, at least where Canada is concerned, midfielders and forwards is where it all gets a little nebulous. For example, is a player like Iain Hume a winger or a striker? But despite these obvious gray areas, I will soldier on, and some way or another I'll try to make mention of every player that deserves consideration to be part of Canada's team.

One person, not a player, who won't be part of Canada's team is Colin Linford, now ex-President of the Canadian Soccer Association board, who resigned because of lack of support from said board. This should be an interesting story to follow.

But it has also been interesting following Canada's lineups over the past couple of years, and which players are favoured in the attacking positions. Because Canada has favoured a 4-5-1 formation that morphs rather seamlessly into a 4-3-3, I won't tally who has had the most starts at striker. Instead, I'll simply list the players that I expect to challenge for the forward spots under Dale Mitchell.

Rob Friend (Borussia Moenchengladbach, Germany)
26 years old / 12 caps / 1 goal

Of all Canada's options at this position, Friend is the most traditional target forward. He's a big lad who is strong in the air, and good with his feet, holding up the ball while midfielders come forward to support the attack. While he has had a decent strike rate in his professional career (40 goals in just over 100 matches in Norway, Holland and now Germany), he has not been able to translate that success to the international scene, with only 1 goal from his 12 appearances for Canada. While he was effective for Canada at the Gold Cup, he couldn't match the success of Ali Gerba who found the net while subbing fo Friend, who missed time at the tournament due to injury and his own wedding.

Ali Gerba (IFK Gothenburg, Sweden)
25 years old / 13 caps / 5 goals

The artist formerly known as "Ali Ngon", and who should now perhaps be known as "Ali G" opened a lot of eyes with his performance in June's Gold Cup tournament. Watch him finish one of the better team goals Canada has scored in recent memory:

He is a powerful and fast player, but one who has had an unsettled club career, competing with 10 clubs over the last 7 years. He has the size and strength to play as a lone target forward, but also the skills to work in partnership with another striker.

Olivier Occean (Lillestrom, Norway)
25 years old / 13 caps / 2 goals

Currently the second leading scorer in Norway, Occean is in good form right now. He came off the bench and scored Canada's only goal in their recent 1-1 friendly draw in Iceland. With Gerba and Friend, he is Canada's "other" pure striker (meaning I can't imagine him playing in any other position). Like Friend, he is another player who has had trouble translating his club success to goals for Canada, although he did have a goal famously disallowed in the last round of World Cup Qualifying by the scoundrel Benito Archundia, the first of two times the latter has screwed us (here's the second).

Now, for the smaller, faster, speedier types.

Iain Hume
(Leicester City, England)
23 years old / 20 caps / 2 goals

Hume's role with Canada has typically been as a super-sub, coming off the bench in the 2nd half with a fresh pair of legs. He scored a brilliant goal in Canada's Gold Cup semi-final against the U.S., but has scored only one other time for Canada, against Luxembourg. He has been used just as often as a wide player as in the striking position, but he is an option. Hume seems to have been around the team for a long time, but he is still very young.

Tomasz Radzinski (Xanthi, Greece)
33 years old / 34 caps / 9 goals

While he played as a left-sided midfield in Canada's last match, Radzinski has seen time at the striker position for Canada. He has loads of speed and some playmaking ability as well. Unfortunately, he has failed to catch on with any time after his contract with EPL side Fulham ended this summer. Expect him to catch on in a second-tier European league like Belgium sometime soon. While he is in the twilight of his career, I feel he still has something to offer for Canada.

Update: I am assured that this article means that Radzinski has just signed with Xanthi of the Greek Super League.

Issey Nakajima-Farran (FC Nordsjaelland, Denmark)
23 years old / 7 caps / 0 goals

In my mind, Nakajima-Farran is a very similar player to Iain Hume. Both can play as a forward or on the right side of midfield. Both have a great deal of speed, and are probably best used as substitutes for any match where Canada has its best squad. Issey is off to a hot start with his new team in Denmark (he transferred after his old side were relegated last spring) and hopefully that success will come to his play for Canada as well.

Unlike the other positions I have looked at (goalkeeper, centre back, fullbacks), there is no viable options for Canada currently playing at Toronto FC. Andrea Lombardo is there, but he is struggling finding the net and looks years away right now. Other options include Stephen Ademolu (Tromso, 2 caps), but he is a big step down in quality from those listed.

Dwayne De Rosario is Canada's most prolific active player with 11 goals, but he has moved from striker to midfield over the last couple of years, for club and for country. So while fans are waiting for one of the aforementioned men to take the bull by the horns and become Canada's first choice striker, it is good to know that goals can come from elsewhere on the pitch.

Because the choice of striker depends so much on formation, and because there is no clear No. 1 at this point, I leave the ranking of Canada's options as an exercise to the reader (I don't think I am being uncharitable to myself by using the singular here).

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Rankings spotlight: AFC

At the beginning of the month, I wrote saluting Iraq's victory at the Asian Cup, and promised to write again to comment on the consequences of the result for the FIFA rankings. Since those were released yesterday, I can complete my analysis.

At the time, I ordered the teams crudely based on wins, losses and draws in the tournament, and speculated that only the bottom quarter of that table would see a drop in their rankings over the two-month window during which the tournament was played. I've checked up on things and I was wrong, but still close.

This table contains the data:
Country June August

Rk Pts Rk Pts Rk Gain Pts Gain
Iraq 84 388 64 474 20 86
Saudi Arabia 62 484 51 580 11 96
Iran 47 623 44 692 3 69
Japan 40 703 41 724 -1 21
Korea Republic 51 597 50 613 1 16
Uzbekistan 58 534 58 508 0 -26
Australia 48 618 49 627 -1 9
Thailand 122 225 109 283 13 58
China 76 422 85 378 -9 -44
Vietnam 142 145 124 222 18 77
Bahrain 100 323 92 362 8 39
Indonesia 143 143 129 198 14 55
UAE 94 341 96 347 -2 6
Oman 74 432 76 418 -2 -14
Qatar 85 386 83 389 2 3
Malaysia 149 106 156 91 -7 -15

Total 68 436

In total, 6 countries out of 16 (Japan, Australia, China, UAE, Oman and Malaysia) saw a drop in their position on the FIFA tables, with China's at 9 spots being the largest. The most upwardly mobile were champions Iraq (20 spots), Vietnam (18), Indonesia (14) and Thailand (13).

There was an overall gain in FIFA "points" by the contending nations, an obvious consequence of a points system that doesn't award negative points, but only de-values and discards points as older results lose weight in the calculation. But that overall point gain also means that, according to the rankings, the Asian Football Conference, or at least the sixteen countries which competed in the Asian Cup, are an average of 4.25 places "stronger" than before the tournament.

To make the point clearer, imagine two countries playing weekly matches throughout the calendar. Because points are only awarded for wins (and no penalty assessed for losses), if Country A and Country B were to split the matches evenly, they would both rocket up the rankings past nations they have never played.

Unfortunately, I don't have the statistical know-how to do much more than complain, so I'll simply continue to regard the FIFA rankings as something less than the gospel truth.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Wednesday Roundup

Lots to talk about today. First of all, the long awaited (by a select few) friendly in Reykjavik, which ended in a 1-1 draw:

The Good

The team continued their streak of scoring in 8 straight games. After years of watching a bunker mentality dominate, it is good to see an attacking side. Olivier Occean's goal came as the result of a nice offensive move and a strong shot from Stalteri that was parried and fell at the feet of the Lillestrom striker.

Also, my starting lineup prediction wasn't too far off. I predicted a lineup of:

Stalteri - Hainault - Hastings - Klukowski
Hume - Bernier - Imhof - De Guzman - Radzinski

Hastings was forced to withdraw with an injury (the assumption is that he otherwise would have started), pulling Imhof out of midfield. The actual lineup sent out by Dale Mitchell was a 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1) that looked like:

Stalteri - Imhof - Hainault - Klukowski
Nakajima-Farran - De Guzman - Bernier - Radzinski

The Bad

While a draw away to any European opponent is normally a respectable result, Iceland is a pretty weak side. Although their ranking by FIFA at 117 is probably a somewhat pessimistic evaluation, Canada needs to beat teams like this, not simply earn draws.

The Ugly

While there was to be no Canadian TV coverage of the event, an Icelandic station seemed to be streaming it online. Then, right before kickoff, the stream died, not to be revived until 30 minutes or so remained. I tuned in just in time to see highlights of Canada being scored upon.

It's rough being a soccer fan in Canada. Or rather, a fan of Canadian soccer in Canada. I can watch Guatemalan league matches weekly on GolTV. But if I do manage to track down this game in a downloadable format, I'll pass along where you can find it.

Updated records

Canada Men's National Team - Appearances (Microsoft Word .DOC)
Canada Men's National Team - Caps, short (Microsoft Excel .XLS)
Canada Men's National Team - Goals (Microsoft Excel .XLS)
And, a new one . . .
Minutes Under Mitchell [MUM] (Microsoft Excel .XLS) - minutes played, under the new gaffer

In other news, besides a whole slew of friendlies with some notable upsets (Norway over Argentina, Switzerland over Holland, Portugal drawn by Armenia), FIFA released it's new rankings today. There may have been some changes at the top, but I don't really care. CONCACAF's order didn't see much of a change:

RankingZonal RankingTeamPts
Aug 07
+/- Ranking
Jul 07
+/- Pts
Jul 07
111Mexico Mexico1099-1Down-43
172USA USA985-3Down-51
523Costa Rica Costa Rica573-2Down6
534Canada Canada565-1Down3
575Honduras Honduras5176Up32
636Trinidad and Tobago Trinidad and Tobago4752Up14
717Panama Panama435-14Down-83
808Guatemala Guatemala397-5Down-28
889Haiti Haiti3714Up24
9010Guyana Guyana36710Up39
9111Cuba Cuba365-1Down5
9512Jamaica Jamaica350-2Down7
10413St. Vincent and the Grenadines St. Vincent and the Grenadines316-1Down0
11914Barbados Barbados245-1Down0
12315Suriname Suriname2242Up0
13016Bermuda Bermuda1940Equal0
13117Antigua and Barbuda Antigua and Barbuda1920Equal0
13818El Salvador El Salvador168-4Down-8
14019Dominican Republic Dominican Republic1490Equal0
14120St. Kitts and Nevis St. Kitts and Nevis1481Up2
14921Bahamas Bahamas111-1Down0
15422Nicaragua Nicaragua96-1Down0
15623Grenada Grenada910Equal0
15824St. Lucia St. Lucia87-1Down0
16625Turks and Caicos Islands Turks and Caicos Islands640Equal0
17726Netherlands Antilles Netherlands Antilles41-3Down0
17927British Virgin Islands British Virgin Islands330Equal0
18428Dominica Dominica210Equal0
18529Cayman Islands Cayman Islands200Equal0
19430Puerto Rico Puerto Rico100Equal0
19631Anguilla Anguilla40Equal0
19932Belize Belize00Equal0
19933US Virgin Islands US Virgin Islands00Equal0
19934Montserrat Montserrat00Equal0
19935Aruba Aruba00Equal0

Canada dropped a spot, but stays in a nice position, for what it's worth. Interestingly, they find themselves only one spot behind Costa Rica, who will be their next opponent in a friendly this September at BMO Field (excuse me, at the National Soccer Stadium) in Toronto.